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Mommie Dearest (film)

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Title: Mommie Dearest (film)  
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Mommie Dearest (film)

Mommie Dearest
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Frank Perry
Produced by Frank Yablans
Screenplay by Robert Getchell
Tracy Hotchner
Frank Perry
Frank Yablans
Based on Mommie Dearest 
by Christina Crawford
Starring Faye Dunaway
Diana Scarwid
Mara Hobel
Rutanya Alda
Steve Forrest
Music by Henry Mancini
Cinematography Paul Lohmann
Edited by Peter E. Berger
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • September 18, 1981 (1981-09-18)
Running time 129 minutes [1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $5 million
Box office $39 million

Mommie Dearest is a 1981 biographical drama film about Joan Crawford, starring Faye Dunaway. The film was directed by Frank Perry. The story was adapted for the screen by Robert Getchell, Tracy Hotchner, Frank Perry, and Frank Yablans, based on the 1978 autobiography of the same name by Christina Crawford. The executive producers were Christina's husband, David Koontz, and Terrence O'Neill, Dunaway's then-boyfriend and soon-to-be husband. The film was distributed by Paramount Pictures, the only one of the "Big 8" film studios for which Crawford had never appeared in a feature film.

The film was a commercial success, grossing $39 million worldwide. Despite mixed reviews, it has since become a cult classic.[2]


Joan Crawford is a driven actress and compulsively clean housekeeper who tries to control the lives of those around her as tightly as she controls herself. To prepare for a work day at MGM Studios, she rises at 4:00 am and engages in a strict morning ritual: scrubbing her face and arms with soap and boiling hot water, then plunging her face into a bowl of rubbing alcohol and ice to close the pores. When Helga, a new maid, thinks she has Joan's living room in spotless condition, Joan finds one minute detail that she overlooked and loses her temper.

Joan is in a relationship with Hollywood lawyer Gregg Savitt, but her career is in a bit of a downswing. Despite desperately wanting a baby, she is unable to get pregnant: seven pregnancies when she was married to actor Franchot Tone have all ended in miscarriages and abortion. When she is denied an application for adoption, she enlists Gregg's help to secure a baby. Joan adopts a girl whom she names Christina, and later a boy, Christopher. Joan lavishes Christina with attention and luxuries such as an extravagant birthday party, but also enforces a code of denial and discipline. When Christina is showered with gifts, Joan allows her to choose only one she likes best that she can keep, then donates the rest to charity.

As Christina rebels against her mother, confrontations ensue. Joan overtakes Christina in a swimming-pool race and laughs at the child. Joan becomes enraged when Christina reacts with anger and locks her in the pool house. Later, Joan discovers Christina wearing her makeup and imitating her. Even though Christina openly denies it and despite her protests, Joan, thinking that Christina is making fun of her, always rummaging through her drawers, trying to find a way to make people look at her and is always looking at herself in the mirror, hysterically cuts off chunks of Christina's hair to humiliate her.

Joan resents Gregg's allegiance to studio boss Louis B. Mayer and argues with Gregg after a dinner at Perrino's restaurant. Joan guzzles down glasses of vodka and throws a drink in Gregg's face after he tells her she is getting old. A physical altercation ensues and Gregg breaks up with Joan. The next day, Joan cuts Gregg out of the family photos. Joan's tantrums grow more bizarre and violent; when Mayer forces Joan to leave MGM after theater owners brand her "box office poison", she hacks down her prize rose garden with a pair of large gardening shears and an axe.

On another occasion, Joan with cold cream allover her face goes into Christina's bedroom in the middle of the night, meaning to return a dress to her closet while the girl sleeps, but discovers one of Christina's dresses hanging on a wire hanger. Enraged, she screams at the girl waking her up in horror then yanks dresses from Christina's closet, throwing them all over the girl's room and beating her with the hanger. Afterwards, Joan wrecks the bathroom as well, throwing cleaning powder all over the perfectly cleaned floor before striking Christina in the head and across the back with the can of cleanser and then screaming at her to clean it up. Christopher offers to help but Christina tells him to return to his own bed as she fears Joan will kill her if she finds out.

Later, Joan sends Christina to the Chadwick School. Years later, when teenaged Christina is caught in a compromising position with a boy, Joan brings her home. Barbara Bennett, a reporter from Redbook magazine, is writing a puff piece on Joan's home life. After Joan lies about Christina being expelled from Chadwick, Christina confronts her in front of the reporter. In the ensuing argument, Joan slaps Christina twice across the face. Christina questions her mother as to why she was adopted, and Joan confesses that it was partially a publicity stunt, but then says that she did not really mean it. After Christina yells, "I am not one of your fans!" Joan throws her to the floor, then throttles Christina, who pleads with her to stop. Joan's live-in assistant and the reporter pull her away.

Joan sends Christina to Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy; under the academy's strict rules, Christina can have no contact with the outside world. Joan then marries Alfred Steele, CEO of Pepsi Cola, moves to New York City and pressures him to shoulder a great deal of debt to fund their lavish lifestyle. After his death, the all-male board tries forcing her to resign, but Joan coerces them into letting her retain her seat by threatening to publicly condemn Pepsi.

After graduating from Flintridge, Christina rents an apartment in Manhattan, where she acts in a soap opera. When Christina is hospitalized for an ovarian tumor, she is temporarily replaced on the show by her visibly drunken mother. Joan dies of cancer in 1977, whereupon Christina and Christopher learn their mother has disinherited them in her will. When Christopher says their mother has managed to have the last word, Christina questions that.



Critical reception

Mommie Dearest received mixed reviews from critics, with a rating of 55% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 31 reviews as of July 2014 with the consensus: "Director Frank Perry's campy melodrama certainly doesn't lack for conviction, and neither does Faye Dunaway's performance in the title role; unfortunately, it does lack enough narrative discipline to offer much more than a guilty pleasure."[3]

Roger Ebert opened his review with "I can't imagine who would want to subject themselves to this movie."[4] About Dunaway's performance, Variety said "Dunaway does not chew scenery. Dunaway starts neatly at each corner of the set in every scene and swallows it whole, costars and all."[5] However, more positive reviews have been published, with Slant Magazine awarding it four stars in the May 31, 2006 edition.[6] Also Dennis Price wrote "Faye Dunaway portrays Joan Crawford in a likeness so chilling it's almost unnatural" in his review of the film.[7]


Roughly a month into release, Paramount realized the film was getting a reputation at the box office as an unintentional comedy, and changed its advertising to reflect its new camp status, proclaiming, "Meet the biggest MOTHER of them all!"[8]

Cast response

In her autobiography, Dunaway only makes a brief mention of the film stating that she wished that director Frank Perry had had enough experience to see when actors needed to rein in their performances.[9] By coincidence, Joan Crawford once said in an interview in the early 1970s that of the current young actresses only Faye Dunaway had "what it takes" to be a true star.[10]

Awards and nominations

Dunaway's portrayal of Crawford ranked as the #41 villain on AFI's list of 100 Heroes and Villains and Dunaway's line "No wire hangers, ever!" ranked #72 on AFI's list of 100 Movie Quotes.

Award Category Subject Result
National Society of Film Critics Award Best Actress Faye Dunaway 2nd place
New York Film Critics Circle Award Best Actress 2nd place
Razzie Award Worst Actress Won
Worst Supporting Actor Steve Forrest Won
Worst Supporting Actress Rutanya Alda Nominated
Mara Hobel Nominated
Diana Scarwid Won
Worst Director Frank Perry Nominated
Worst Screenplay Won
Robert Getchell Won
Tracy Hotchner Won
Frank Yablans Won
Worst Picture Won

See also


  1. ^ (AA)"MOMMIE DEAREST".  
  2. ^ QueenB. "MOMMIE DEAREST – Midnight Screening of 1981 Cult Classic! « Long Beach Cinematheque". Retrieved January 12, 2014. 
  3. ^ "Mommie Dearest". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved December 9, 2009. 
  4. ^ Roger Ebert (January 1, 1981). "Mommie Dearest". Chicago Sun-Times.
  5. ^ "Review: ‘Mommie Dearest’". Variety. January 1, 1981
  6. ^ "Mommie Dearest | Film Review". Slant Magazine. May 30, 2006. 
  7. ^ "Mommie Dearest". August 14, 2001. 
  8. ^ "Mommie Dearest Movie – The 80s Rewind". September 18, 1981. 
  9. ^ Faye Dunaway and Betsy Sharkey (1997). Looking For Gatsby: My Life, Pocket Books. ISBN 978-0-671-67526-4
  10. ^ Kurt Andersen (March 23, 1981). "Mpmmie Dearest". Time Magazine.

External links

Preceded by
Can't Stop the Music
Razzie Award for Worst Picture
2nd Golden Raspberry Awards
Succeeded by
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